This essay explores the origins of the Satellite Instructional Technology Experiment (SITE), a project that used a NASA satellite to beam educational programs to over two thousand villages in India in the mid-1970s. Touted as a major success in using advanced technology for the purposes of poverty alleviation, the results of the project remain contested. I argue that the causes of its ambiguous outcome can be traced to the late 1960s when Indian and American scientific elites mobilized support for this project by uniting a coalition of diverse actors that each imagined a different ‘India’. Although each of these ‘Indias’ represented a starkly different vision of the nation, they were consonant for a brief historical moment, thus enabling SITE to come to reality. Their ability to do so depended on framing as monolithic and passive, the one population central to the project, the ‘poor and illiterate’ of India.
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“They’re green,” says Fordham University history professor Asif Siddiqi of the first group of cosmonauts. “You essentially have the space program mold and shape them.”
The author Jay Bennett continues, “As the U.S. and U.S.S.R. gained experience flying people in space, they began to attempt more complicated missions, such as docking in orbit and sending astronauts outside their spacecraft. In the astronaut selection process, the two space programs put more emphasis on engineering education, and the Soviet program raised its standards for flight time, making the second group of astronauts older and more experienced than the first, Siddiqui says. Buzz Aldrin, selected in the third group of NASA astronauts in 1963, was the first person to join the corps with a doctoral degree (in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).”
You can follow Prof. Asif Siddiqi on Twitter @historyasif.
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When we think about the future of spaceflight, the names that most often come to mind are those of the science fiction authors and film directors: Andrei Tarkowsky, Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, and most recently, Christopher Nolan. We certainly don’t think of historians. After all, historians are concerned with the past, not the future, right?
Well, in 2010, the United States Congress set up a committee to explore the future of the already ostensibly futuristic concept of human spaceflight, they called on the expertise of a historian, specifically Fordham’s own Asif Siddiqi. In the summer of 2014 the committee’s report was published, and we asked Professor Siddiqi to tell us a bit about the process. Read on to learn more about the experience, watch a video featuring about the history of and to see the great snapshots he provided illustrating his time working on the committee.